Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lex Rex


This spring, Peter Enns labored to use Rom 13 as a wedge tactic in the inerrancy debate:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2014/04/the-apostle-pauls-clear-inerrant-teaching-on-government-and-why-we-dont-need-to-follow-it/

I'd like to make a few brief observations:

i) Inerrancy makes allowance for the fact that Paul is describing an ideal. This is the proper role of gov't. This is how gov't ought to function. 

It would, however, be naive to assume that Paul was describing reality, without further ado. After all, Caligula desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. So did Pompey, before him. And a Roman magistrate authorized the execution of the Messiah.

Likewise, Paul was a student of the OT. He believed the OT. Yet the OT views some gov't officials as so corrupt that they must be deposed. You even have a pious high priest engineer a coup d'etat (2 Kgs 11). 

ii) As Samuel Rutherford pointed out, in Lex Rex:

2. The powers (Rom. xiii. 1) that be, are ordained of God, as their author and efficient; but kings commanding unjust things, and killing the innocent, in these acts, are but men, and sinful men; and the power by which they do these acts, a sinful and an usurped power, and so far they are not powers ordained of God, according to his revealed will, which must rule us. Now the authority and official power, in abstracto, is ordained of God, as the text saith, and other Scriptures do evidence. And this politicians do clear, while they distinguish betwixt jus personæ, and jus coronæ, the power of the person, and the power of the crown and royal office. They must then be two different things. 
http://www.constitution.org/sr/q29.htm
iii) Surely it's not a coincidence that Paul is writing to Christians who live in the capital of the Roman Empire. They must be model citizens. They must set an example. For Roman officials are watching them. Roman authorities will judge the Christian movement in general by the conduct of Roman Christians. 

iv) Even if there was another side to Paul's view of the Roman state, we'd hardly expect him to disclose that in a letter to Christians in Rome. What if the letter was intercepted? What if Roman officials got their hands on a copy of the letter? If it contained seditious material, consider the political repercussions, both for Paul and his recipients?

This doesn't mean Paul is dissembling in Rom 13. There is, however, a difference between saying what you don't believe and saying less than you believe. A difference between saying what you don't believe and not saying what you do believe. Rom 13 is true as far as it goes. An ideal. But this is not the occasion for Paul to spell out caveats which Roman authorities might view as treasonous or revolutionary.  

v) Finally, it's not as if mid-1C Christians were in a position to overthrow the Roman state even if that was desirable. So you learn to adapt. God, in his providential wisdom, had put Christians in that situation for the time being. 

The restrainer


I'm this post I'm going to discuss the identity of the restrainer in 2 Thes 2:6-7. At the bottom of the post I will handicap a number of interpretations I reject. But I don't want to wade through all the competing interpretations before discussing my own proposal
1) There are two extremes we need to avoid when considering endtime prophecy. One is to become too confident and committed to a very specific identification. Endtime prophecy is a snare for cocksure Christians. Don't quit your job or sell your house. Don't pour your life savings into an underground, survivalist bunker in the backwoods to hunker down for the reign of the Antichrist. 
But the opposite danger, which is sometimes an overreaction to millenarian speculation, is to avoid speculation altogether. Many amils accept a degree of futurism. They aren't preterists. Yet their futurism tends to be vague and hypothetical.
For instance, I think Beale wrote a magnificent commentary on Revelation, and I also like his commentary on Thessalonians. Beale is masterful at tracing literary allusions. Documenting subtextual allusions. Sleuthing background material.

But when it comes to the follow-up question–what is this future oracle about? What type of future scenario does it correspond to?–he doesn't take the next step. 

Even though he believes some of these prophecies await a future fulfillment, he confines himself to the text. He has an exclusively textual focus. He never gets outside of the text to ask what the future referent will resemble. 

Obviously we should begin with the text. But if the text refers to something outside itself, then we should make a conscientious effort to correlate endtime prophecies with real-world referents.

I'm not suggesting we can pinpoint the fulfillment. But it's good to explore what kinds of ways it might play out. Complement intertextuality with extratextual events. 

Otherwise, it's an awful lot like treating future prophecy as if it was self-referential fiction, viz. Perelandra. It begins and ends within the world of the text. That self-enclosed story. 

2) The identity of the restrainer in 2 Thes isn't something we can construe in isolation. How we answer that question is bound up with how we construe the identity of the Antichrist, or the time and place of fulfillment. These are interlocking answers, for the restrainer and the Antichrist are roughly synchronized. Likewise, their respective careers must be coordinated with a particular place and period. So we must have consistent interpretations of the players and the stage. 

This isn't necessarily an attempt to pinpoint their identity. Indeed, I think that can be a fool's errand. Instead, I'm considering plausible profiles for the restrainer and the Antichrist. Not singling out a particular individual or timeframe, but the kind of individual who fits the profile. 

Likewise, if this prophecy lies in the future, then we should take into account what the future might look like. Had the Antichrist come in the 5C AD, or the 13C AD, the background details would be different. But that's no longer a live option.

3) One of the best interpretations views the restrainer as the Archangel Michael (e.g. Beale, Marshall, Nicholl, Shogren).  This identification has a number of things in its favor. Paul's depiction of the Antichrist alludes to Daniel (as well as Ezekiel). Given that Danielic background, it makes sense if the restrainer has a Danielic counterpart as well (Dan 10:13,20-21). 

This identification has other advantages. An angel can restrain another angel. An angel can be God's agent. By the same token, God can remove the angel after he's served his purpose. Since both heavenly and fallen angels are immortal, this would explain the longevity of the restraint, reaching back to Paul's time, but still in force 2000 years later and counting. 

So the angelic interpretation may well be right. At the same time it has some limitations:

i) Dan 11:36 is prophetic in a way that Dan 10 is not. At best, Dan 10 would set a precedent. 

We need to guard against reducing prophecy to a literary construct. That runs the risk of making prophecy a fiction, modeled on literary allusions. Truth turns on whether the background material is prophetic (or typological) in its own right. 

ii) Dan 10 has a different dynamic. In Dan 10, Michael sidelines a fallen angel. But if the restrainer is Michael, then Michael is sidelined to make way for the Antichrist, who's the agent of a fallen angel. So the relation is nearly the opposite of Dan 10.

4) I'd like to consider one other interpretation. This is useful in part because it's good to be on the alert for different possibilities. If you expect the enemy to come in one direction, he may come from behind to catch you offguard. So look around. It's prudent to prepare for different eventualities.  

i) What are different ways in which evil men are temporarily restrained? At one level, there can be external impediments. But there can also be psychological impediments.

For instance, some professing Christians commit apostasy, yet they keep that to themselves, or lead a double life, because they have a devout wife or mother, and they wish to spare their loved one's feelings. Or because they don't wish to disappoint their pious loved one. They value their esteem. 

If, however, the wife or mother dies, then they are free to express themselves. They no longer feel the need to conceal their true identity. Their pious wife or mother was a restraining influence on them.

For that matter, some professing Christians become apostates because they lost a loved one. They blame God for failing to protect their loved one. So long as their pious loved one was alive, that restrained them from committing apostasy or coming out of the closet. 

ii) Let's take one or two illustrations, which don't necessarily involve apostasy, but do involve restraint. Henri de Navarre assumed the French throne. His mother (Jeanne d'Albret) was a pious Protestant, but as a condition of his ascension to the throne, he had to renounce the Protestant faith and convert to Catholicism. That was a crippling blow to the Protestant movement in France. Yet Henri had a very lenient policy towards French Protestants. He promulgated the Edict of Nantes. That was probably in deference to his mother. Had his mother been someone like Catherine de Medici, I doubt he'd show the same restraint.

Mikhail Gorbachev had a pious Russian Orthodox mother. Although he himself is an atheist, perhaps his mother had a moderating influence which made him less ruthless than Lenin, Stalin, Putin, or Brezhnev. 

iii) Apostates are some of the most virulent opponents of the Christian faith. They take Christianity very personally. Having lost their faith, they attack their former faith to rationalize their loss of faith. So it wouldn't be surprising if the Antichrist will be an apostate.

iv) In an earlier post I speculated that the Antichrist might be a sorcerer. In that connection, I'd note that some professing Christians lose their faith in connection with the occult. That can be a catalyst or hardening factor. Michael Sudduth seems to be one example. 

And Aleister Crowley is another. Crowley was raised in the Plymouth Brethren. At the time a very conservative Protestant denomination. But for whatever reason, he lost his faith. Homosexual inclination may have been a precipitating factor. He became steeped in the occult. And he actually viewed himself as the Antichrist. He saw himself as the Beast of Revelation. Ironically, his upbringing in a Millenarian denomination exposed him to endtime prophecy and seized his imagination. 

But he didn't make the cut. He wasn't Satan's anointed. Must have been a terribly letdown! 

iv) I'm just considering profiles for the restrainer and the Antichrist. These are correlative. 

Commentators typically assume that the restrainer is identifiable. After all, there's a sense in which you can't identify the restrainer with someone you've never heard of. So you sift through a list of the usual suspects. Pick a candidate from someone or something in the public domain.

But what if the restrainer is somebody few people have ever heard of in advance of the fact? Some individuals only become well-known in association with another well-known figures. If Bess Truman or Mamie Eisenhower hadn't married to famous men, no one would remember them. It's possible that the restrainer is a private individual who only becomes identifiable after the Antichrist rises to power. 

5) Finally, let's run through some alternative identifications:

i) Some scholars think the verb (katecho) doesn't mean "restrain" or "hold back," but "possess" or "hold sway." Up to a point, that's an appealing interpretation, although it's been challenged on linguistic grounds. That the Antichrist is a demoniac certainly fits the profile. That's the source of his power. 

But over and above the linguistic objections, even if that works for v6, it's hard to square that with v7. Why is the demotion of Satan a prerequisite for the promotion of the Antichrist? Why would Satan initially restrain his agent? Why must Satan be restrained for his agent to take power? Don't they rise and fall together? 

Likewise, vv6-7 involve a contrast, which makes more sense if the distinction is between the presence and absence of restraint, rather than the presence or absence of possession. If the Antichrist is only free to come into his own after the katecho is removed, then that suggests the katecho was holding him back. 

ii) Some scholars think it refers to the Roman state and Roman emperor. One advantage of that interpretation is that it accounts for Paul's distinction between neuter and masculine participles. But there are problems with that interpretation:

a) Perhaps Paul's grammatical distinction is merely a stylistic variation. Moreover, grammatical genre is an arbitrary convention, not to be confused with the actual gender (if any) of the referents. The neuter form may emphasize a particular quality of the restrainer. 

b) How can Rome be both the agent of restraint and the agent that removes the restraint? How does Rome remove itself? The emperor wasn't independent of the state or vice versa. 

c) Likewise, the Antichrist is an opponent of God, not an opponent of Rome. A religious rebel, not a political rebel. 

d) Given Caligula's abortive plot to desecrate the temple in Jerusalem, thereby reprising the role of Antiochus, it's hard to believe Paul would view the Roman state as an obstacle to the Antichrist. Likewise, Pompey actually desecrated the temple. 

e) Finally, the fall of the Roman Empire didn't usher in the reign of the Antichrist. 

iii) Warfield thought it referred to the Jewish regime. As long as Judaism was a religio licita, Christianity could shield itself from official persecution by sheltering under Judaism, as just one more Jewish sect. Yet there are basic problems with that identification:

a) Jews instigated Roman authorities to persecute Christians.   

b) After the First Jewish Revolt (67-70), Christian association with Judaism would be politically hazardous to Christians. 

c) The Antichrist didn't rise to power after the destruction of the Jewish regime–whether we date that to the First Jewish Revolt or the Bar-Kokhba Revolt. 

iv) Some interpreters think it refers to God. 

a) But it's quite incongruous to suggest that God is sidelined. By whom? 

b) Moreover, as Paul goes onto to discuss, God continues to be very active in this situation (vv9-11).

John 20:29 And Michael Shermer

There's a small handful of Biblical passages that are often cited by those who want to portray Christianity as anti-intellectual. Even some professing Christians will cite a passage like John 20:29 as an apologetic against apologetics. I've often commented on how badly such passages have to be taken out of context in order to abuse them for anti-intellectual purposes.

What I want to do here is note how the recent Michael Shermer story illustrates what John 20:29 actually seems to be referring to. If somebody like Michael Shermer were to believe in the paranormal after having a paranormal experience, what would be wrong with that? Would I fault him for wanting evidence for the paranormal? For not taking a blind leap in the dark? For citing his experience as a justification for changing his view? For trying to persuade other people by citing reason and evidence in support of his position? No. It's good when somebody like Shermer wants evidence, doesn't just take a blind leap in the dark, tries to persuade other people by citing the evidence of his own experience with the paranormal, etc. I don't fault him for those things. I fault him for not accepting the existence of paranormal phenomena on the basis of the evidence he had access to prior to his own experience. The evidence he had previously was well beyond what was needed to justify a belief in paranormal phenomena. He didn't need to wait for a personal experience.

Similarly, it doesn't make sense to take John 20:29 as a rebuke of Thomas for being too intellectual, for wanting reason, evidence, and such. Rather, as far as Thomas is being rebuked on intellectual grounds in that passage, he's being rebuked for not following the evidence he already had to its logical conclusion. He already had Jesus' prophecy fulfillments, other pre-resurrection miracles performed by Jesus, his predictions of his resurrection, the empty tomb, and the testimony of other people who saw the risen Jesus, for example. Thomas was asking for more when he didn't need it, much like Shermer.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cotton Mather's Bible


A while back I dipped into Cotton Mather's sprawling, meandering commentary on Genesis. I was curious to see how an educated man of his period (1662/3-1727/8) understood Genesis. Men of Mather's generation and earlier have, at best, only the sketchiest inkling of ANE chronology, geography, and fauna. They are at a total loss to understand some passages. Biblical archeology has greatly aided our understanding of some Bible passages. 
And not just archeology, but the ability to hop on a plane and go see the area in question. F. F. Bruce wrote a classic, landmark commentary on the Greek text of Acts during W.W.II. He revised it towards the end of his life. Among other things, he says:
At a more amateur level, I have myself in more recent years visited that area [Asian and Galatic Phrygia] and most of the other places which figure in Acts. This has supplied a further perspective which was not available when the first edition was being prepared…" (xvii).   
In some respects we understand parts of Scripture far better than our forebears. However, modernity creates its own blinders. I was reminded of this when reading Iain Provan's interpretation of Gen 2. 
To begin with, Provan–like many Bible scholars–doesn't think that matches reality. They come to Genesis with the prior assumption that at least some what of Genesis describes can't be true. We "know" that's not how it happened. 
Therefore, they don't even attempt to explore the meaning of the passages in case that's realistic. They just assume it must be metaphorical. It has to stand for something else. So they talk about that instead. 
On a related note, their own lifestyle is so far removed from the lifestyle of Bible times that they really can't imagine what it would be like. Provan can't even visualize Gen 2. He can't see that scene in his mind's eye. For him, the river and the garden must be purely symbolic. A bucolic allegory of the temple or tabernacle. 
It reminds me of Samuel Johnson reviewing of Paradise Lost. Although it's set in the garden of Eden, Johnson remarked that Milton's description of the garden read like a man who never set foot in a real garden. It was just a literary construct, pieced together from Classical sources like the garden of the Hesperides.
And that's not surprising. Milton was a very bookish man. And he was flaunting his literary erudition. Moreover, people in Milton's time didn't necessarily share our romantic love of nature in the wild. 
Knowing Hebrew, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and cuneiform languages doesn't automatically equipt you to understand the OT. There are some passages in Scripture which a rancher, farmer, hunter, trapper, or fisherman would instantly understand that eludes the average Bible scholar.  
This extends to the supernatural dimension of Scripture. For instance, in parts of the world where ancient witchcraft lingers, some of the "unbelievable" scenes in the Bible are suddenly familiar and true to life. But because the average Bible scholar never has occasion to experience anything out of the ordinary, that's incredible.  

Vermigli on the Natural Knowledge of God

From Muller’s discussion of “Natural Theology” in the Reformers: Vermigli on the Natural Knowledge of God:

In sum, Vermigli stands in agreement with Calvin on the uselessness of natural knowledge of God in salvation, but he appears also to take more cognizance of the relative validity of philosophical argumentation based on natural revelation. On this point, Vermigli’s nuanced views may offer a clearer antecedent than Calvin for the later Reformed orthodox position.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Michael Shermer's Paranormal Experience

Greg Taylor recently posted about a paranormal experience Michael Shermer reported having, an experience that "rocked [Shermer] back on [his] heels and shook [his] skepticism to its core". Taylor links to Shermer's article, so you can read it for yourself. It's short. But I recommend also reading Taylor's analysis. I agree with his doubts. Shermer has a lot of credibility problems. Still, Shermer's claims about his paranormal experience have some significance in light of his background and where the report of his experience was published.

Klaatu loses Gort


Eric Holding is resigning, although that's pending confirmation of a successor, so that might drag on into next year. Holder's departure will be quite a loss to Obama. Holder is to Obama what Gort is to Klaatu. He's both Obama's spear and shield. Obama's already weakened presidency will be further and gravely weakened by losing Holder. It will leave Obama very exposed. No towering robot to hide behind. No towering robot to attack on cue. 

From Eden to new Jerusalem


I'm going to quote and comment on Iain Provan's analysis of Gen 1-2 in Seriously Dangerous Religion (Baylor 2014):
The sacred nature of the world is first intimated in Gen 1 through the metaphor of the temple. Temples in the ANE were designed primarily as residences for the gods, rather than as places of worship.
It is this close connection between cosmos construction and temple construction that we see also in Gen 1:1-2:4, where the cosmos is presented as God's temple. First, temple-dedication ceremonies in the ANE often lasted seven days…second, we are told of God's gathering of the waters into one place so that they could serve a useful purpose as seas (Gen 1:9). This reflects the reality of the later temple in Israel's capital city of Jerusalem, within whose precincts was to be found an impressive "sea of cast metal, circular in shape" (1 Kgs 7:23-26). Third, we also read in Gen about the creation of the sun and the moon (Gen 1:14-16)…the Hebrew word used here for "light" (ma'or) is most frequently used elsewhere in the OT for the sanctuary light in the tabernacle (the Israelites' portable temple prior to Solomon's time). Fourth, the end of the creation account in Gen 1:1-2:4 also reminds us of the construction of the tabernacle in Exod 40:33…Finally before God finishes this creative work, we read in Genesis that he places in "image" in creation (1:26-28). In the ANE more generally, the deity's presence in his temple was also marked by an image, in which the reality of the deity was thought to be embodied (32-33).
i) The cosmic temple interpretation of Gen 1 is already becoming old hat in Bible scholarship. Provan isn't breaking new ground here.
ii) I agree with Provan and like-minded scholars who find temple motifs in Gen 1. I think Gen 1 foreshadows the tabernacle–as well as Noah's ark. In fact, I think we could augment the evidence. The "firmament" (1:6ff.) is arguably an architectural metaphor for a roof or ceiling, such as a temple would have. So, up to a point, I think this analysis is valid.
iii) That said, Provan overplays the temple interpretation. There's a big difference between saying Gen 1 contains a few suggestive descriptions which cue the reader to anticipate the tabernacle–quite something else to make that the dominant interpretive paradigm. Most of the content of Gen 1 bears no resemblance to a temple, even at a figurative level. 
And that's what we'd expect from a global creation account. It's not a residence for God, but a residence for creatures. It contains lots of stuff you don't find in temples. At best, Provan might try to argue that it's God's residence in the vicarious sense that man functions as a priest of God. 
For the most part, Gen 1 is describing a physical world with the furnishings necessary for physical existence. To make the temple metaphor the controlling interpretive lens is very disproportionate to the actual content and emphasis, which is more mundane. 
iv) The comparison between the oceans in 1:9 and the "sea of brass" in Solomon's temple is rather desperate:
a) To begin with, the sea of brass has a completely different function. It's for ceremonial ablutions, whereas the ocean in Gen 1 is the habitat for marine creatures (1:20ff). 
b) It's exegetically dubious to use a text outside the Pentateuch to interpret the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is literary and conceptual unit. To some extent, the books of the Pentateuch mirror each other. They are mutually interpreting. Genesis lays down some markers which will be picked up in subsequent books of the Pentateuch. That's the primary frame of reference.
c) By the same token, even granting the presence of temple motifs in Gen 1, the counterpart to the "cosmic temple" in Gen 1 is the wilderness tabernacle, not the Solomonic temple. 
v) If Gen 1 is a realistic creation account, then we'd expect it to describe the origin of water and bodies of water–like oceans. 
Put succinctly, the creation narrative in Gen 1 is retold in Gen 1, this time through the metaphor of the garden rather than the temple (34).
What we are likely dealing with in Gen 2, then, is exactly what we are certainly dealing with in Gen 1. It is the idea that the whole world is sacred space. In Gen 2, however, this idea is developed using garden imagery (36).
A fundamental problem with this analysis is that if, according to Provan, the temple account (Gen 1) includes garden imagery while the garden account (Gen 2) includes temple imagery, then it's hard to claim these are two different ways of saying the same thing. According to his own analysis, Gen 1 contains garden motifs as well as temple motifs while Gen 1 contains temple motifs as well as garden motifs. So these aren't two different metaphors to express the same idea. The distinction between the two is blurred by shared motifs. His analysis works at cross-purposes with his conclusion. 
The Impossible Garden
The sacred nature of the world is also strongly suggested by the metaphor of the garden that is used for it in Gen 2. This is often missed, however because of a long reading tradition that understands this garden ("in the east, in Eden"; 2:8) as a place within the world rather than as a picture of the world…The authors of Genesis almost certainly did not have a particular location in mind when writing about the garden. Three features of their description strongly suggest this. First, the region to the "east" of ancient Israel was Mesopotamia…However, as we read the first eleven chapters of the Genesis story, we discover that human beings only end up in Mesopotamia as the result of an eastward migration from their starting point in the garden…They first leave the garden via the entrance/exit on its east side…Cain's failures lead him further eastward into the land of Nod (4:16); further eastward migration ultimately leads to Babylon (11:2). Eden, it seems, must actually be in the west… (33-34).
i) That fails to distinguish between east as a direction and east as a location. If, say, I sail north from Antarctica, I can travel for hundreds of miles in a northerly direction, but still be in the southern hemisphere. 
ii) The migration to Babylon in 11:2 doesn't represent a continuous, linear migration from Eden. Provan fails to take into account the disruption of the deluge. We're not dealing with the geographical origin of the human race, but where the ark bottomed out. That becomes the new epicenter for humanity–via the survivors. The postlapsarian migration represents a new beginning. A new starting-point. 
Second, we must remember that Gen 2 follows Gen 1…It has already described the creation of trees in that global context (1:11-12,29), as well as the creation of beasts, birds, and humans (female as well as male; Gen 1:20-27). Chapter 2 repeats all of this in the context of the garden. The natural implication is that the garden is not located somewhere on the earth, but represents the whole earth (34).
i) An obvious problem with this conclusion is that Gen 2 doesn't repeat all the items in Gen 1. It's more restricted. It has a river, not an ocean. No marine creatures. It doesn't describe the origin of the sky, sun, stars, dry land, &c. 
ii) According to the traditional interpretation, Gen 1 and Gen 2 do overlap. There's some carryover. Gen 2 is a more detailed description of man's creation and his original habitat. 
iii) The tacit assumption of Provan's interpretation is that Gen 2 simply uses a garden metaphor. But if, in fact, this is a real garden, then we'd expect it to contain trees and wildlife. Those are realistic features. 
If God did make a first human couple, by special creation, where would they live? A riverine location is a practical location. That's why you have the great river valley civilizations of Egypt, India, China, South America, and–yes–Mesopotamia.
River valleys have lush vegetation (e.g. fruit trees, shade trees) on both sides of the river bank. They supply water for cooking, washing, bathing, and irrigation. Drinking water for humans, livestock, hunting dogs, and game animals. Fishing and transportation. Solid waste disposal. When rivers overflow their banks, they leave a layer of silt which replenishes the topsoil. What biologists call a riparian zone. 
Indeed, if the garden is not the whole earth, it is unclear how the whole earth is supposed to be populated and governed by human begins in line with Gen 1:28, for there is no hint in Gen 1-3 that human beings were ever supposed to leave the garden (34-35).
i) Actually, I'd draw the opposite inference. The cultural mandate (1:28) assumes that after man outgrew the confines of the garden, he'd expand outward, colonizing and domesticating other parts of the earth. Since Gen 2 says the human race began from just one breeding pair, most of the earth was initially unpopulated by humans. 
ii) Moreover, the terms of the curse on Adam imply that conditions outside the garden were fairly inhospitable compared to conditions inside the garden. Provan's interpretation erases that invidious contrast. 
Third, there is the puzzling matter of the geography of Genesis 2:10-14 (35).
That's an old chestnut. 
i) Given the lapse of time, it's unsurprising that some of the geographical markers may be hard to identify this far down the pike. Rivers change course. Rivers dry up. Place-names change.
ii) Provan is ignoring scientific and archeological evidence that locates Eden in Mesopotamia. Cf. K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 428-30; http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2000/PSCF3-00Hill.html
Like other temples in the ancient world, this (cosmic) garden-temple incorporates within it a spring, from which the primeval waters flow out to water the four corners of the earth (2:6)… (36).
Which assumes the riverine imagery is figurative. But, of course, real people do settle alongside real rivers. That's true the world over. 
We see this in 1 Kings 6, where its interior is said to be "carved with gourds and open flowers…palm trees and open flowers (1 Kgs 6:18,29) (37).
i) Although that may be Edenic imagery, it may just be decorative.
ii) Even if it is meant to evoke the Garden of Eden, Provan's analysis is backwards: the garden doesn't imitate a temple; rather, a temple imitates the garden.
iii) There's also the problem of literary anachronisms, where later texts are used to gloss earlier texts. Perhaps, though, Provan thinks the Pentateuch was written after the construction and destruction of Solomon's temple.
We see it also in Ezk 47:1-12… (37).
No doubt that deliberately fuses temple motifs with Edenic motifs. But that's visionary and surreal. That's a different genre than historical narrative (e.g. Gen 1-2).
The particular "tree" that is the tree of life in the garden of Eden (Gen 2:9) is represented in the tabernacle by the branched lampstand with its floral motifs (Exod 25:31-40; 37:17-24) (37).
That may well be, but once again, Provan has the cart before the horse. The garden prefigures the tabernacle, not vice versa. 
Provan continues in this vein. But that misses the point. Yes, biblical descriptions of the temple and tabernacle allude to Eden. But the garden is not a figurative temple; rather, the temple (or tabernacle) is a figurative garden. Although the garden can function as sacred space, it's still a garden. 
This brings us back around to the Hebrew word miqqedem in Gen 2:8 which has so often been translated as "in the east"…[but] it is not so much an expression of physical direction…The sun rises in the east (miqqedem), and light is a common OT metaphor for the divine presence (39).
i) To begin with, identifying "the east" with "light" would be better suited to the temple interpretation of Gen 1, where the celestial luminaries presage the Menorah. That's a temple metaphor, not a garden metaphor.
ii) The sun really does rise in the east–to an earthbound observer. That's not a metaphor, but a reality. Of course, sunrise and sunlight can function as metaphors, but there's no presumption that an allusion to sunrise or sunlight is figurative. 
iii) Moreover, the narrator may not intend the reader to associate "the east" with sunrise or sunlight. Oftentimes "east" is just a location or direction, rather than a synonym for sunrise or sunset. 
Of course, if you're traveling by foot, then sunrise gives you a rough compass point. But at that juncture we've strayed far from the prosaic reference in Gen 2:8. 

Richard Muller, “Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics”, Volume 2: Scripture

This is the beginning of Volume 2 of Richard Muller’s “Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology”. Elsewhere, I’ve been working through Volumes One (“Prolegomena”) and Three (“Doctrine of God”) of the four-volume series.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A rule no one needs or obeys

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/09/methodological_1089971.html

101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology

A brief review: http://reformation500.com/2014/09/24/review-101-philosophy-terms-for-theology/

Kelly James Clark, James K. A. Smith, and Richard Lints (Westminster/John Knox Press).

Rat outbreak


Another bright idea by environmentalists. 
Quick observation: isn't composting food, rather than disposing of food, going to be a magnet for rats? Won't that policy invite rat infestation–with all the predictable and attendant public health hazards? Do we want residential neighbors to be overrun by rats? 

Food for you


After engaging in some lengthy linguistic analysis, Provan concludes by saying:
This translation allows us to notice something rather striking when Gen 9:2 is compared with Gen 1:24-25 and Gen 9:10. In Gen 9:2, one class of animals not mentioned at all–the behemah, "livestock." Gen 9, we thus realize, is concerned only with animals life in the nondomestic sphere: the predatory wild animals, the birds, the remaining wild animals (remes), and the fish. It is wild creatures, and not creatures in general, that now live their lives in fear and dread of human beings. The livestock already "belong" in human hands, from the perspective of Genesis. We may go further: the animals explicitly singled out in Gen 9:3 as being given over to humans now for food are not animals in general but only some of the wild land animals: "every wild but nonpredatory land animal [Heb. remes] that is living shall be food for you. As I gave green plants to you–everything" (Gen 9:3; my translation). Why are these particular animals (e.g., deer) singled out? Most likely it is because they are to become a much more important food source for humans than the others mentioned. I. Provan,Seriously Dangerous Religion (Baylor 2014), 233. 

Waltke v. Enns


Since the present keruffle over Green and Fantuzzo has spilled over to Waltke and Enns, now is a good time to revisit Waltke's response to Enns. Waltke is a far superior scholar, who takes the time to exegete Enns's prooftexts in a way that Enns himself fails to do. And Waltke clearly has a higher view of Scripture. Keep in mind, too, that this exchange too place at a time when Enns was still feigning faith in the inerrancy of Scripture–a pose he quickly dropped after his departure from Westminster: 

Flogging


20 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money…26 “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. 27 If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth (Exod 21:20-21,26-27). 
I'm going to discuss a controversial OT law (esp. v20). 
i) Whenever we respond to unbelievers who attack OT ethics, we must constantly remind them that atheism has no basis for human rights. Atheism can't ground objective morality. Moreover, given their reductionistic view of human beings, there's no reason to think humans are the kind of entities entitled to special treatment.
Although it's tedious and repetitive to replay the same broken record, it's necessary so long as unbelievers evade the implications of their own position.
ii) OT laws don't necessarily endorse what they regulate. This is true of law generally. Laws of morality presuppose the existence of evil. Laws can't eradicate evil. At most, they improve the situation. Mitigate evil. The fact that OT law regulates slavery doesn't ipso facto mean it condones slavery. Not every evil can be forbidden. Some well-meaning laws are unenforceable. The best thing some laws can aim for is to limit damage. Make the status quo less harmful. 
iii) Critics needs to be clear on what they find objectionable in this law. Do they find slavery objectionable or corporal punishment? If their primary objection is to slavery, then they'd object to any OT law regulating slavery. They don't object to slavery because it may involve corporal punishment. So their offense at this particular passage is disingenuous.   
iv) "Slavery" is an umbrella term. There were different kinds of "slaves." There were indentured servants. There were war captives. Without repeating what I've said elsewhere, I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with indentured service or enslaving enemy combatants. You have to consider the practical alternative in that (or some analogous) situation. 
v) Assuming this verse alludes to corporal punishment, adult corporal punishment is hardly unique to this particular law. It's no as if flogging was reserved for slaves. Adult corporal punishment was a general punishment for various crimes:
“If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight (Deut 25:1-3).
In principle, a slave master could also be punished by flogging if he committed a crime where that was the usual punishment. Both masters and slaved could be subject to flogging. Masters were not exempt. 
vi) Although commentators tend to assume 21:20 refers to discipline, that's not entirely clear. It occurs in the context of other passages dealing with assault and battery. So it may not refer to corporal punishment at all. 
vii) This statute is actually concerned with protecting slaves from physical abuse. According to scholars, this is unique among ANE law codes. It's not about the rights of the master, but the rights of the slave. It limits the prerogatives of the master. Indeed, an abusive master is subject to legal jeopardy (perhaps the death penalty). So that's a significant deterrent.

Regarding “Forerunners” of the Reformation: Oberman on Historical Method

In studying the “Post-Reformation” period, Richard Muller makes ample use of the writings of Medieval writers, among whom we may find various “forerunners” (Vol 2 pg 351) of the Reformation (as well as of the “post-Reformation” era). He does so in search of what he calls “continuities” across various disciplines.

He traces these “continuities” through the writings of the Reformers themselves (which he breaks roughly into “first generation” and “second generation”) as well as the works of the various “Reformed Orthodox” writers who came in the roughly the next 200 years.

Earlier, Heiko Oberman had also visited this concept of “forerunners”. According to Oberman, these “forerunners” did not necessarily have “causative” effects, but they did have ideas which were echoed at later times. Here is how he put it:

One of the reasons why a historian may be suspicious of the use of the term Forerunner, while operating freely and frequently with its Latin equivalent “antecedent,” is its possible causative connotation. It might seem to imply a concept of history which presupposes determination by a pre-established divine plan or by its secular equivalent, immanent historical laws.

To be sure, there is a divine plan for history. But we do not presume to say what God has in mind.

We do not feel that it should be the task of the historian of ideas to establish causal connections in the historical succession of these ideas. Rather, his goal should be, by drawing on these antecedents as illuminating parallels, to place ideas in their own context and point to their particular characteristics and their changing structures.

Accordingly the standard for a Forerunner cannot be that he “caused” the Reformation in one respect or another, for example, by exercising direct or indirect influence on Luther; the study of the Forerunner is determined rather by the wish to give Reformation thought its proper historical context.

The importance of the study of economic, political, social, and psychological factors is by no means denied by such a study.

On the contrary, the shift from a causal to a contextual reading of the history of thought has the advantage of not entering into competition with any of these approaches but provides instead a perspective for measuring the changes in the configuration of questions and answers.

Thus the use of the category of Forerunners does not function to establish the nature of the cause but to describe the structure of the change.

Heiko A. Oberman, “Forerunners of the Reformation”, New York, NY: Holt Rinehart and Winston, ©1965, pp. 38–39.

Tremper Longman's soap opera


A third part of this public relations campaign is the “retirement party” being giving by the seminary for Bruce Waltke who only taught at Westminster for five years and left in 1990 and, ironically, at least he told me at the time, at least in part because the conservative constituency was constantly harassing him for being too “liberal.” After all, Bruce does affirm evolution, has no problems with multiple Isaiahs, and doesn't think that Moses wrote every word of the Pentateuch. 
Anticipated future Posts:
A Retirement Party for Bruce Waltke, Really? I love Bruce, but this is pure political theatre and Bruce knows it… 
https://www.facebook.com/tremper.longman/posts/827196623966300?fref=nf

Several issues:

i) How does Longman know the retirement party from Waltke is part of a PR campaign?

ii) He accuses Waltke of colluding in the PR campaign. 

iii) He misrepresents Waltke's position, which is more qualified:

In my book An Old Testament Theology [hereafter AOTT] I resolve the tensions between biblical cosmology and science partly by the theory of theistic evolution; I remain open to multiple authors of Isaiah; I accept an exilic date for the final edition of Deuteronomy; and other matters.  WTJ 71 (2009), 116.

iv) Who schedules events like this at WTS? The board? The office of the president? Of is it lower down the pecking order?

v) It's deeply misleading to say he only taught there for 5 years. To my knowledge, he's been a visiting prof. at WTS for many years. 

vi) Given that there are some traces of liberalism in Waltke's theology, it may be inconsistent for WTS to host a retirement party for him on the heels of dismissing Enns, Green, and Fantuzzo. Suppose that's the case. What then? It's better to be inconsistently right than consistently wrong. The important issue is not the retirement party, which is ephemeral, but what prospective ministers of the gospel will be taught in the class room.

vii) I agree that there are some significant weaknesses in Waltke's theology. At the same time, Waltke has compensatory virtues that Enns, Green, and Fantuzzo do not. Waltke has produced a tremendous body of scholarship over the years, most of which is very useful to the church. The same cannot be said for the other three. Most of what Enns has published is destructive to the Christian faith. Green and Fantuzzo haven't made anything like the contributions to evangelical scholarship that Waltke has. In fairness, Fantuzzo's a young scholar. But that's why there's very little basis on which to compare Waltke with Green or Fantuzzo. 

Does Green publish so little because he has nothing original to contribute, or because he has something to hide? It's a bit suspicious. 

viii) Keep in mind that Waltke is clearly to the right of Enns. He's a sharp critic of Enns:

Moreover, Enns’s interpretation opens the door both to a liberal definition of progressive revelation and to open theism. According to the liberal definition, ‘‘progressive revelation’’ refers to an evolutionary development of religion wherein earlier revelation is primitive and rudimentary and its teachings about divine reality and morals must be assessed and corrected by later revelation. 
Enns earlier informs his readers that authors in Second Temple literature anchored their interpretations in what they knew to be right. This involved manipulating the text to suit their purposes. He suggests this is the interpretative method used in Matt 2:15. But I find that that interpretation depreciates a high regard for Scripture’s inspiration. 
Enns believes his theory of incarnation is consistent with Warfield’s concursive theory of inspiration. I do not. A theory that entails notions that holy Scripture contains flat out contradictions, ludicrous harmonization, earlier revelations that are misleading and/or less than truthful, and doctrines that are represented as based on historical fact, but in fact are based on fabricated history, in my judgment, is inconsistent with the doctrine that God inspired every word of holy Scripture. To be sure, the Scripture is fully human, but it is just as fully the Word of God, with whom there is no shadow of turning and who will not lie to or mislead his elect. WTJ 71 (2009): 89n7, 90, 94.
Apparently I put more weight on logic than does Enns. True, it remains an a priori of mine that doctrine is based on the conviction that God does not contradict himself; speak nonsense; represent as ostensive fact on the plot level (i.e., the human author’s representation of the event) what in fact is fiction on the story (i.e., ‘‘the event’’) level; and other human ‘‘mistakes.’’ Admittedly, I am not a professional systematic theologian nor a scholar of the Westminster Standards in particular, but if the Westminster divines thought that Scripture contains what is commonly understood as human error, why would they and how could they have defined God with respect to his revelation in Holy Scripture as ‘‘truth itself ’’ (WCF 1.4)? 
‘‘Tensions,’’ the balancing of opposing truths that prompt one to extend understanding to embrace both, do not trouble me. Paradoxes mirror the messiness of life and are the grist for profitable theological reflection. The Semites have a saying, with which I tend to agree: ‘‘You do not have truth until you have paradox.’’ Like most people, I seek to resolve tensions with the same unflinching honesty as Enns, while admitting that the finite mind can never come to infinite truth. But Enns’s approach generates tensions between the inspiration of the Bible by an inerrant Source and human foibles such as contradictions, mistaken teachings, semantic impertinence, and doctrines based on Qumran pesher and on sharp but inappropriate and unaccredited exegesis that is called pilpul in Talmudic hermeneutics. In Enns’s response he does not correct my statements that his book implies these foibles. 
Likewise, I do not accept Enn’s resolution of the tension by conceding the necessity of accepting what most regard as human error. When I encounter contradiction in a good writer, not just in the Bible, I retrace my steps to see where I went wrong in my interpretation. I do not go on feeling comfortable with nonsense. 
Typology assumes that redemptive history was in the mind of God from the beginning and that he designed the type to show that he is writing Israel’s redemptive history. The Antitype event fulfillment of the event type is just as much‘‘fulfillment’’as an intentional verbal prediction of an event that finds fulfillment in a later event. Typology assumes a high view of inspiration in that its fusion of the event horizons assumes God has a design for sacred history, and that that revealed history points to him as the Author of that story. 
It would be helpful if Enns would define more clearly what he means by ‘‘midrashically generated’’ stories. If he intends to blur the distinction between ‘‘history’’ and ‘‘fiction’’—as James Mitchner did in his historical novels—he needs to state clearly what is historical, as Mitchner did in some of his novels. In the case of The Da Vinci Code, it made a big difference to people whether Dan Brown accurately represented his alleged historical data in his foreword. For most, Brown’s ‘‘doctrine’’ of Christ stands or falls on that issue. Note that the apostles argue at numerous points that they are writing real history, not myths in the sense of fictions, so evidently the distinction was important to them, not just to moderns. Elsewhere, Enns uses the word ‘‘Midrash’’ to refer to what moderns think of as specious argumentation; is that what he means by ‘‘midrashically generated’’? 
Enns takes us beyond diversity. His alleged entailments of his interpretation of the model of incarnational inspiration include—at least so it seems to me—such human foibles as contradictions, mis- taken teachings in earlier revelation, and building doctrines on pesher, arbitrary interpretations, and he does not correct me. These assertions go beyond mere tensions and call into question the cogency of the biblical writers, the inerrancy of the Bible’s Source, and the infallibility of the divine/human texts. WTJ 71 (2009), 115-116,125-127.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dispensing with merely human meaning

"Dispensing with Merely Human Meaning: Gains and Losses from Focusing on the Human Author, Illustrated by Zephaniah 1:2-3" by Vern Poythress.

4 reasons the consent argument for abortion is sociopathic

http://bnonn.thinkingmatters.org.nz/4-reasons-consent-argument-for-abortion-is-sociopathic/

‘Not Islamic’?

http://www.nationalreview.com/node/388626/print

Did you see Superman?


The latest kerfuffle at WTS, involving Green/Fantuzzo, is an extension of the Enns affair. To what extent Green/Fantuzzo (or Longman and McCartney) share the perspective of Enns is disputed. However, this raises, once more, the issue of how the OT "points" to Jesus. 

i) Christians of good will can, and often do, struggle to formulate how the OT points to Jesus. That's not surprising. For one thing, this, in part, goes to general philosophical debates concering rival theories of meaning. It's not as if Christians are guilty of special pleading if they find it challenging to hit on the right formulation. These hermeneutical issues are not unique to Scripture, although Scripture adds an extra dimension to the debate.

ii) Apropos (i), the fact that some Christians may have an unsatisfactory model of how the OT points to Jesus is not, in itself, disqualifying. However, not everyone is acting in good faith. Although we can debate the right answer, there is clearly a wrong answer. More precisely, there's clearly a right starting point and a wrong starting point.

The right starting point begins with the inspiration of Scripture. In some sense, God reveals the future. He reveals the future to prophets. In addition, God has prearranged history so that some things foreshadow other things. 

An "Incarnational" model of inspiration, or "Christotelic" hermeneutic sounds pious enough, but as we know by now, that's cover fire for an essentially secular view of Scripture. Enns clearly denies the inspiration of Scripture, apart from Pickwickian definitions. By the same token, he implicitly denies predictive prophecy. Any hermeneutic which begins with that starting-point is a non-starter. 

iii) Let's attempt to sketch a positive hermeneutic. How is the OT about Jesus? 

Let's begin with a comparison. Suppose a pedestrian in Metropolis witnesses Superman save the day. Suppose you ask him, "Have you seen Clark Kent?" Suppose he says "No." Is his answer true or false?

Well, in on sense, by seeing Superman, the pedestrian saw Clark Kent. But he doesn't know that Clark Kent is really Superman. So the true answer is equivocal. We have to break it down.

iv) There are characters who know who Clark Kent is. Even in that respect, their knowledge may be limited or compartmentalized. Some characters know that Clark Kent is the bespectacled, unassuming reporter at the Daily Planet.

Other characters know the backstory of Clark Kent. He's was a farm boy who grew up in Smallville, USA. The son of Martha and Jonathan Kent. 

They may assume Martha and Jonathan were his biological parents. Only a few characters know that they are actually his adoptive parents.

Many characters know who Superman is, although their knowledge is usually quite limited or compartmentalized. Most of them know that he's a good guy, a heroic figure, with superhuman abilities, who uses his special powers to fight evil and defend the innocent. 

Very few characters know the backstory of Clark Kent. Very few know that he's an alien from the doomed planet of Krypton. That his "biological" parents were Lara and Jor-El. That his real name is Kal-El. Very few know that his superhuman abilities derive from his alien nature. 

By contrast, the narrator knows everything about Superman. He knows that Clark Kent is an alias for Superman. He knows the backstory of Superman.

And the audience is privy to what the narrator knows. The audience knows more about the true identity of Superman than almost any of the characters within the story. The audience knows that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same individual. 

v) We might also distinguish between the actor and the role. Different actors can play the same role. You can know who Superman is, in the sense of being familiar with the character, without knowing in advance what actor will be cast to play that part. Conversely, it's possible to know about the actor without being conversant with the Superman mythos. 

vi) This illustrates some technical distinctions in hermeneutics. On the one hand, Superman and Clark Kent don't mean the same thing. On the other hand, Superman and Clark Kent are co-referring expressions. 

Superman denotes the alien superhero, whereas Clark Kent denotes his human alias. Superman leads a double life, slumming as an ordinary human being. 

Suppose a character describes Clark Kent. He doesn't intend his description to pick out Superman. But since Clark Kent is Superman, his description of Superman unintentionally refers to Superman. 

In addition, there's a difference between not intending to refer to Superman, and intending not to refer to Superman. The fact that in describing Clark Kent he did not intend to refer to Superman doesn't mean he intended to deny that Clark Kent was Superman. It was not his intention to contrast the two. Therefore, the true identity of Clark Kent doesn't contravene his intentions. 

vii) In Messianic prophecy, it's useful to distinguish between sense and reference. Did Isaiah think that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah? No. However, when Isaiah describes the Messiah, his descriptions pick out Jesus. That isn't a case of NT writers reassigning these descriptions to Jesus.

Different OT prophets know different things about the Messiah. God disclosed different things to different prophets. Some prophets know more about the Clark Kent side of Jesus, while other prophets know more about the Superman side of Jesus. Some know more about the backstories than others. 

Likewise, Isaiah could know what the Messiah would be like without knowing who would play the Messiah–just as I can know about the character without knowing ahead of time that Zack Snyder or Christopher Reeve will play the part.

There's another asymmetry. Later OT prophets can know what earlier OT prophets said, but not vice versa. Having the benefit of hindsight doesn't begin with the NT. That retrospective outlook was already unfolding in the OT. 

My analysis doesn't require me to say that an OT prophet did not intend to refer to Jesus. Rather, this is a limiting case. Even if (ex hypothesi) that's an unintentional implication of the description, it still refers to Jesus. If Clark Kent is an alias for Superman, then by metaphysical necessity (identity of indiscernibles/indiscernibility of identicals) an accurate description of Clark Kent will implicate Superman in the process. Even if an OT prophet is ignorant of the Messiah's true identity, Messianic prophecy successfully refers to the Jesus via the descriptions. An OT prophet can be talking about Jesus even if that's not what he had in mind. 

Isaiah intends his description. Isaiah intends the choice of words that form his sentences. The description may have objective implications above and beyond what he was consciously aware of. The future event is out of his hands. He doesn't intend or will the event. That's up to God.

Isaiah determines the sense, but not the referent, for the referent (e.g. future person or event) is causally independent of Isaiah.  

OT prophets are like characters in the story. Bible writers are instrumental authors in relation to the divine narrator. 

viii) Finally, God prearranges history so that some things are analogous to other things. Earlier persons, places, institutions, or events have later counterparts. There are prophetic events as well as prophetic texts. 

All this requires a strong doctrine of inspiration, revelation, and providence. But with those elements in place, it's not special pleading to discern how the OT points to Jesus.  

Books at a glance

A couple of interviews worth your while:

Monday, September 22, 2014

Some reports of healed blindness and raisings

http://www.craigkeener.com/some-reports-of-healed-blindness-and-raisings/

http://www.craigkeener.com/miracle-reports-in-history-and-today/

The Quran, the Bible, and the Islamic Dilemma

The Cartesian theater

More pearls of wisdom from the Rational Skepticism Forum:

Ven. Kwan Tam Woo » Sep 22, 2014 6:01 am
The fact of the matter is that, so far as this debate is concerned, he is on the same side as those Muslim terrorists.
i) An allegation which he hasn't even attempted to demonstrate.

ii) But since he wants to talk about terrorism, what's his position on ecoterrorism, viz. ALF, ELF, SSCS, Earth First? Aren't their members typically adherents of naturalistic evolution?

The idea that atheism leads to moral relativism and nihilism is as fallacious as it is offensive
That's an idea I got from prominent secular philosophers, viz. Michael Ruse, Joel Marks, Alex Rosenberg, Quentin Smith, J. L. Mackie, Massimo Pigliucci.

You want religious justifications for extremist acts?
Pretending to answer a question I didn't ask.

So bombing clinics “after hours” is okay is it?
Here we have an atheist who's so intellectually challenged that for him, distinguishg what is less worse from what is far worse is equivalent to "okay." If I say burning a human alive is far worse than burning a dog alive, does that mean burning a dog alive is "okay"?

You have to wonder: is he an atheist because he's that obtuse–or is he that obtuse because he's an atheist?

Well now he knows how narcissistic psychopaths feel! I hope I never run into this guy in a dark alley! First he suggests that it’s okay to bomb abortion clinics “after hours”, and now this.
Notice how he's admitted in a roundabout way that atheism is dangerous. It isn't safe to be an atheist if you take it too seriously. It is dangerous to be a consistent atheist. Dangerous to think it through to its logical conclusion. And especially dangerous to act on it.

No it’s not. It’s an adaptation-oriented description.
He used the word "fulfill." That's a teleological concept.

Simply put, natural selection gives the illusion of brain evolution moving towards a particular goal.
If natural selection generates illusions, how would he be in any position to detect the illusion? His brain is a product of that delusive process.

Re serial killers: the question was why we value things, *not* whether it is right or wrong to value certain things.
Which is a problem for his position inasmuch as atheism is unable to bridge the gap between moral psychology and moral ontology.

Perhaps the author could enlighten us as to why his “loving” God has seen it fit create serial killers who derive pleasure from wanton murder?
I've discussed theodicy on many occasions. Try asking a question I haven't answered already.

How does it beg the question?? The evidence that thought arises from neurological activity is overwhelming. Those “eminent” philosophers (I assume he means people like Chalmers?) are pulling assertions out of their arses.
Which does nothing to refute their arguments.

Well at least he is admitting that he’s motivated by fear, that’s a start.
No, I used the word "suppose." That's a cue that I'm speaking hypothetically. For the sake of argument. Get it?

His fear is not an effect of “physical determinism” (which I never mentioned), rather it is a product of his own religious baggage. No one is “blaming” brain chemistry for anything. Yes you can in fact influence what your brain tells you, but in order to do that you have to understand and accept how the brain works first.
Notice that he's captive to the Cartesian theater. He's a physicalist, yet he acts like he's an independent observer of his neurological outputs. As if he's a homunculus who's watching the action and assessing the action. But if physicalism is true, there is no "he" distinct from his brain. His claim is circular: to say "you can influence what your brain tells you" translates into "your brain can influence what your brain tells you." As though your brain can peer over its shoulder and correct what your brain is doing.

No, that’s a straw man. It is a causal, selective, and adaptation-driven process in which complexity builds upon itself.
To say it's "causal, selective, and adaptation-driven" doesn't contradict the fact that it's a blind, undirected process.

To take a comparison, suppose I throw dice to bet on horses or play the stock market. Is that a reliable method to pick horses or pick stocks? No, because there's no intelligence behind the outcome. Like a brain that's the product of naturalistic evolution. Just a roll of the dice.

What I’m asking is how does he explain the origin and functioning of the mind of his god?
Only contingent entities have an origin. So his question is a category mistake.

The emotional effects are real whether you are consciously aware that the story and characters are fictional or not. If you can just switch them off by reminding yourself that it’s not real, then the movie makers haven’t done their job properly.
I appreciate his frank admission that an atheist finds it hard to distinguish between fiction and reality. That goes a long way towards explaining why he's an atheist in the first place.

Whither the Canaanites?


One thing some students of the Bible find puzzling are apparently conflicting statements about the actual scope of the destruction of the Canaanites. On the one hand we have unqualified statements about the decimation of the Canaanites (e.g. Deut 7:2; 20:16-17; Josh 10:40-42). On the other hand, we have statements acknowledging the continued presence of Canaanites in the Holy Land (e.g. Judges 1-3).
This also crops up in debates over the historicity of the accounts. Does the archeological record confirm or disconfirm the extent of the conquest in biblical narratives? 
i) Many scholars say the Biblical language is hyperbolic. Hyperbole was a stock literary convention of ANE conquest accounts. And I think that explanation may well be valid. 
There are, however, one or two alternative explanations:
ii) To begin with, we need to distinguish between commands and compliance. You could well have discrepancy between the scope of the command and the degree to which that was carried out. That doesn't mean the record is inaccurate. Rather, that means the Israelites were not consistently faithful in implementing the command. 
iii) Finally, Scripture indicates more than one way in which the Holy Land was cleared of Canaanites. Mass execution was one means. But Scripture also refers to expelling the inhabitants (e.g. Exod 23:28-30; Lev 18:24; Num 33:51-56; Deut 7:20; Josh 24:12).
Now, to the extent that many Canaanites were driven out, that means they were still alive. So even if they self-evacuated, they–or their descendants–could stage periodic raids or military incursions. Attempt to reestablish their presence. Retake land which they previously occupied. 
Ancient Israel had porous borders. It's not as if there was an electrified fence to secure the boundaries of the Holy Land and keep intruders at bay. An area which might have been free of Canaanites in the time of Joshua might be reoccupied by Canaanites in the time of Judges–absent constant vigilance by the Israelites. 

Remember the Reformation

Over at my Reformation500 blog, I’ve been working through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics series. I’ve acquired this set through Logos Bible Software, and while it was costly, it was every bit worth the price.

Over there, I’ve been working through Volumes 1 and 3 (“Prolegomena” and “Doctrine of God”). Those deal a lot with epistemology and metaphysics and how the Reformers dealt with the Medieval discussions and how the “Reformed Orthodox” really tried to clarify the Medieval discussions from a truly Biblical perspective.

Muller’s Volume 2 deals with “the Doctrine of Scripture” – and I think that’s a good thing to review in the light of some of the things that are going on in our day. Of course it may be said that “this was all from a pre-critical era” and that’s true, but it’s still important to see how the individuals from this era of “Reformed orthodoxy” worked their best to understand all of the history of the church before them.

Muller’s central thesis is something like this:

Reviews Of Debates On Jesus' Resurrection

Here are links to our reviews of some resurrection debates over the years:

William Lane Craig vs. Bart Ehrman (2006) (reviewed by Steve Hays)
William Lane Craig vs. Bart Ehrman (2006) (reviewed by Jason Engwer)
Mike Licona vs. Bart Ehrman (2008)
Gary Habermas vs. Arif Ahmed (2008) (see, also, the further comments here and in the Stand to Reason thread linked there)
Richard Carrier vs. William Lane Craig (2009)
Mike Licona vs. Bart Ehrman (2009)
Mike Licona vs. Evan Fales (2014)
Calum Miller vs. R. Greg Cavin (2015)
David Wood vs. John Loftus (2015)
Mike Licona vs. Matt Dillahunty (2017) (see here also)

You can find archives of our posts on resurrection issues here. The e-books linked on our sidebar on the right side of our homepage contain several hundred pages of material on Jesus' resurrection. Steve's This Joyful Eastertide alone has a few hundred pages on the subject. You'll find lengthy interactions with Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Jeff Lowder, John Loftus, and other individuals. If you're interested in responses to people whose debates we haven't reviewed, you might find responses to them in the other resources I've just mentioned.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pure genius!


I used to think Dawkins was just a science writer rather than a working scientist. Not a great scientist. Or even a very good scientist. Not a theoretical or experimental scientist of any distinction. Just a flashy popularizer. But now I take it all back. He's made a novel and hitherto unsuspected discovery: "We are going to die!"


Why did it take science so long to stumble onto that elusive fact? I think Dawkins should be awarded a Nobel prize in biology for his stunning new discovery. This catapults him to the ranks of Newton, Einstein, Dirac, and Pauling.